Get to Know Your Spine
by Shannen Miller, RecSports TeXercise Instructor
“You are only as young as your spine is flexible,” said Joseph Pilates, the creator of Pilates. When you think of people in good health, what do you see? How do they act? They are mobile, have good posture, an awareness of self, and can move freely without pain. Your spine plays a key role in all these areas. Keep reading to learn more about your spine, how to keep it happy and healthy and how Pilates can help.
Get To Know Your Spine
Good posture requires you to be in Neutral Spine. Your spinal column consists of 26 vertebrae — seven cervical, 12 thoracis, five lumbar, the sacrum, and the coccyx. In a neutral position your spine has three natural curves:
- Cervical Curve (neck): Concave from the back
- Thoracic Curve (mid-back): Convex from the back
- Lumbar Curve (low-back): Concave from the back
These curves allow your spine to absorb shock during activities like walking or running, and provide added strength and resilience when compared to a straight, rigid column. When you are in Neutral Spine, every joint is held in an optimal position by connective tissue with symmetrical tension to allow an equal distribution of force through the entire spine structure. Any deviation of the curves in your spine — too much or too little — can lead to pain, dysfunction, and/or disease.
How To Keep Your Spine Happy and Healthy
Use it or lose it. Core training is vital for the health of your spine. Your core consists of all the muscles that help stabilize both your spine and pelvis. That means everything other than your legs, arms, and head!
With the assistance of your core, your spine can move through all three planes of motion: Sagittal (front to back), Frontal (side to side), and Transverse (rotation). When creating or participating in an exercise program, you want to focus on moving your spine in all three planes of motion to target all the core muscles that keep your spine stable.
Sagittal: These are exercises that include both Flexion (think abdominal crunch) and Extension (think superman). Sagittal exercises help strengthen your abdominal wall (flexion) and your posterior torso (extension).
Frontal: These exercises include lateral flexion (think side overs). Frontal exercises help strengthen your internal obliques, latissimus dorsi, and your pelvic stabilizing muscles (preventing rotation).
Transverse: These exercises include rotation (think twist). Transverse exercises strengthen your internal/external obliques & latissimus dorsi with rotation.
Can Pilates Help?
Yes! When you attend a Pilates class, you will always move your spine through the planes of motion. Additionally, you focus on strengthening your intrinsic core muscles (the muscles connected directly to your spine and pelvis) to further enhance your posture against the effects of gravity. With a deep understanding of your core muscles, you can decrease the wear and tear gravity can place on your joints, helping you to stand tall and move pain free!
About the Author
Shannen Miller is a certified group fitness instructor and Barre Above Master Trainer. Shannen currently teaches barre, aqua fit and works with Pilates Reformer participants as part of the Fitness + Wellness program at UT Recreational Sports. Shannen has received various certifications YogaFit (Level 3), Schwinn Cycling, Club Pilates 500 hour Comprehensive Pilates Training, and AFAA (GX). Shannen has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degree from Texas A&M University.